The History of the Gadsden Flag

Consisting of a snake against a yellow background with the phrase “Don’t Tread on Me,” (see the flag here) the Gadsden flag has become increasingly popular over the years, even being used by the Tea Party movement. Regardless of where you live, you’ve probably seen it displayed on residential lawns and properties.

Gadsden flag meaning

The meaning of the Gadsden flag, or Rattlesnake flag, is as a symbol of liberty and freedom from oppression. Like most historic flags, though, the Gadsden flag has a rich history behind its symbolism. To learn more about the Gadsden flag and how it came to be, keep reading.

Gadsden flag origins

The Gadsden flag has origins dating back to the American Revolution. When the original Thirteen Colonies were established, the rattlesnake was used to symbolize colonists’ will to defend themselves. Colonists recognized the threat of a British invasion, but that didn’t stop them from backing down. Like a rattlesnake, they would stand their stand ground and fight back if threatened.

Even publications from Benjamin Franklin contained references of the rattlesnake in regards to the historic Thirteen Colonies. In 1775, Franklin published the “Pennsylvania Journal,” in which he said that the rattlesnake was an appropriate symbol for the original Thirteen Colonies. With the nudge from Franklin’s publication, the Continental Congress officially adopted the rattlesnake symbol for its Seal of the War Office. It didn’t feature the same design as the Gadsden flag. Rather, the Seal of the War Office featured a rattlesnake with the phrase “This We’ll Defend.” Nonetheless, it helped pave the way for the modern-day Gadsden flag.

Cristopher Gadsden flag

The Gadsden flag receives its namesake from its designer, Christopher Gadsden. Christopher Gadsden was a politician and a military general during the American Revolution. He grew up in Charleston, South Carolina where he served in the army. During the American Revolution, Christopher Gadsden designed the modern-day Gadsden flag, which he proudly flew around his hometown of Charleston, South Carolina.

Christopher Gadsden came up with the design by taking inspiration from the First Navy Jack. The First Navy Jack flag featured the phrase “Don’t Tread on Me” with a rattlesnake. Rather than an all-yellow background, though, it has a background consisting of red and white horizontal stripes. The rattlesnake in the First Navy Jack was also uncoiled. The Gadsden flag, on the other hand, features a coiled rattlesnake in a strike position against an all-yellow background.

Even today, the Gadsden flag is commonly flown in Charleston, South Carolina to honor its designer, Christopher Gadsden. Several states, including South Carolina, have also adopted special license plates featuring the Gadsden flag.

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